How SMEs can turn a lead-gen engine into a revenue-gen engine

Marketing automation tools require expertise, content and commitment. A more agile path for SMEs is to follow a nurture approach, says Matt Daunt.

This article originally appeared in The Generation Issue, our June/July 2017 issue of Marketing magazine.

Matt Daunt copyYou may have noticed a slow erosion taking place in your lead generation activities: ever-declining email open rates, dubious digital marketing metrics and the collapse in traditional outbound telemarketing conversion rates. So what lead generation strategies are working in today’s complex and cluttered market?

If we refer to Chief Marketer’s data, we see that email marketing ranks number one for lead generation. Other reports, such as Hubspot’s ‘State of Inbound’ report, suggest different channels are more effective for different audiences. Nevertheless, email marketing has consistently stood out as highly potent over the last five years.

If you’re really busy and you read nothing else, read this: it’s not what channel you use, it’s how you use it.

Marketing has transformed from a product-centric, mass advertising, demographic-based sales machine into a customer-centric, behaviour-based relationship nurture engine. This complex omni-channel ecosystem has become the obsession of modern marketers as they spend their time on the metaphorical tweaking of dials and pulling of levers.

And that’s where the problems begin.

Go ahead and Google ‘lead generation engine’. Once you sift through the ads, most of the thought leadership on the subject comes from CRM and marketing automation vendors like Marketo, Hubspot, Salesforce and the like.

Understandable – marketing automation has become the fashionable crutch of marketers as they seek to reach ever-larger audiences with ever dwindling attention spans. Don’t get me wrong, marketing automation does deliver the platform to effectively drive top-of-funnel marketing with the ability to nurture those opportunities into marketing qualified leads for sales.

The reality for many SMEs, however, is that marketing automation is a demanding mistress. Here are my top three rookie mistakes:

 

1. Assuming marketing automation is easy

Sorry, it just isn’t. To realise its full potential marketing automation is a hungry, detailed and complex beast.

Success is a slow, cumulative effect starting with the right expertise when setting it up, through to the constant demands for content to fuel the engine. Lead scoring also requires a lot of trial and error to identify the thresholds for leads as they progress through the sales funnel before being handed over to sales. Fail to set this up correctly and it will negatively impact sales conversion of those leads.

 

2. Not using marketing automation to its full potential

According to SiriusDecisions, more than 85% of B2B marketers who use a marketing automation platform are not using it properly. Many are just using it as an elaborate email marketing tool. The ‘Regalix State of Automation Report 2015’ shows that less than 40% use marketing automation for content optimisation and only 17% for sales intelligence. The reality is that marketing automation is not a set-and forget engine. It includes a range of interrelated activity including lead management, content marketing, query strings, lead scoring, reporting and integrated digital channel campaigns. Powerful stuff if you use it properly, but you must ask yourself: are you ready and committed?

 

3. Running marketing automation in isolation

One sure path to failure with a lead generation engine like marketing automation is to run it as a silo. It is important to get buy-in to a mutual vision from all facets of business, including executive sponsorship. Get sales to agree on objectives, settings and all aspects of the overall plan, because without it you risk disenfranchised players blaming you or the platform when they weren’t properly consulted in the first place.

Another risk for siloing is not integrating with existing CRM systems – marketing automation can only realise its potential with lead scoring, reporting and nurture when integrated with CRM to get a more holistic view and insights of the customer or prospect.

 

Is anybody listening?

FUN FACT: five exabytes of information were created between the dawn of civilisation and 2003. Now, that much information is created every two days.

Just let that soak in for a moment.

This abundance of information has now created what social scientist Herbert Simon calls ‘attention economics’.

“In an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients.”

People are overwhelmed with information and are getting better at ignoring your messages. The rise of marketing automation and lead generation ‘engines’ only fuels this massive growth in information. We are witnessing a perfect storm of content overload – crashing into a diminishing attention span.

 

Creating a revenue generation engine

MK0617 cover generationHere’s the thing. Marketers have become so obsessed with the channels of marketing delivery and its metrics of conversion rates, click-throughs, impressions and lead scoring that they’ve forgotten about the most important thing… it’s not about your channel mix, it’s about what you’re saying and why you are saying it, not just understanding who and when.

Sadly, most content sent is just carefully-curated, generic sludge. Marketers have forgotten how to build a powerful and compelling proposition, and that’s the problem. This is the strategic side of marketing most overlooked by SMEs.

SME marketing is full of hollow slogans and platitudes: lowest prices, best quality, great service and so on. When everyone is using the same platitudes then nobody is getting noticed, no matter how well tuned your marketing automation or lead generation engine. Many fail to realise that what you say in your marketing and how you say it is almost always more important than the marketing channel where you say it.

You need messaging and a brand expression that is authentic at every touch point, allowing you to connect both emotionally and rationally with modern buyers.

Let’s break this down.

To quote the great Simon Sinek you need to discover your ‘why’ – why you do what you do. For those unfamiliar with Sinek, go to YouTube and watch his famous TED talk from several years ago called ‘The Golden Circle’, still today one of the simplest ideas for how to communicate the purpose for your brand in a genuine way. He explains with great clarity that customers don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

When you know your purpose, it infuses your other tactics, messages and narrative with a genuine, consistent, values-based story to engage your audience. While brand purpose is an entire series of articles in their own right, let’s assume you have a clarity of brand purpose and move to the next stages.

 

The Big Idea

One of the most commonly overlooked elements of a lead- generation engine is ‘The Big Idea’ – the creative expression. Typically, this is associated with expensive brand campaigns as part of demand generation, but those companies that value a creative execution to their content marketing and lead generation will always stand out in a sea of generic lead-gen collateral.

The Big Idea is more than a one-dimensional analogy or metaphor. It’s deeper than that, more engaging. It makes you stop and think. There is a sense of discovery in layers of messaging. This sounds fanciful stuff for mere lead-gen campaigns, but those who invest the time and talent to articulate an idea to convey their content will reap the rewards for the stages that follow.

 

Interrupt, engage, enlighten

It’s easy to say, but a lot more difficult to get your message noticed by your prospect. Getting noticed is done through your headline, or the first thing you say, depending on the channel used. A compelling, relevant and arresting headline should be carefully cultivated as it has one of the most important jobs in your marketing.

Once you have their attention, the sub headings and early body copy need to engage them on a journey of discovery, showing how their problem will be addressed and why they can trust you to deliver it.

Finally, we need to enlighten through education. This is where credibility, proof, evidence and facts come into play to appease the rational mind as they move through to the consideration phases of the journey of how you will address their problems.

 

Commitment

Now you have their attention, you’ve presented your case and satiated the rational mind. The final component of our conversion equation is your offer. This is where you need to remove risk and incentivise action.

Beware, however, of what your competitors are doing; simply offering the same ‘free trial’ as everyone else may not be effective. Ensure the offer, like the headline, is compelling and engaging – ensure that it too differentiates you and builds trust with your audience.

It’s not an easy path to turn lead generation engines into revenue engines; however, a myopic focus on the channel tactics and slavish obsession with metrics is unlikely to get you there quickly.

 

In summary

It’s not what channel you use, it’s how you use it. Marketing automation platforms are excellent tools for lead generation, but require a lot of expertise, content, commitment and time to reap the rewards.

A more agile path for SMEs is to follow a nurture approach using simple email marketing tools aligned to the buyer’s journey of awareness, consideration and decision. Then invest more in clarity of message, more engaging ideas, better (and usually less) content and ensure all elements are working cohesively to create a more authentic, distinctive and relevant message for jaded and time-poor consumers.

Only then can your lead-generation engine truly become a revenue engine.

 

Matt Daunt is CEO of The Certainty Principle

 

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